“. . . for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” Phil. 2:13
About six years ago I published a book called Satan’s Top Ten Tricks–available, btw, from amazon.com and at the Northland church bookstore. In this book I offer a caveat that Satan has far more up his sleeve than just ten tricks. I did not want the reader to be so focused on my list that he/she fell for others. Satan’s tricks are as innumerable as his sophistry and subtlety are incomparable. However, the ten I list are biggies, and I think discerning them was a gift of the Holy Spirit. One licensed marriage and family therapist described the book as “life changing.” I thought that lavish praise was a bit over-the-top, nevertheless, I suppose the realization that satan is constantly active in our thought-life could be life changing for many.
The other day while I was driving, and as I’m inclined to do, mindlessly obsessing in a very habitual manner about everything that is wrong with my life, the thought came to me that what I was engaged in at that precise moment was a “trick” of the devil so monstrous and so much a part of me that I’d missed it entirely–some signs are so much a part of our persona that we never see them–we can’t discern the signal amidst the noise, or more colloquially, see the forest for the trees. I tell my clients that obsessing is a type of problem solving gone awry–but of course that doesn’t apply to me.
Satan constantly redirects our gaze into a micro-focus on our personal pain, our emptiness, our neediness, and everything wrong with not only ourselves, but God’s Creation in general. In my particular case the pain has to do with loneliness. I have very little in the way of family and I’ve lived alone for most of the past 25 years since my divorce. This is not what I wanted but I’ve come to accept it as God’s will.
In spite of trusting God, and seeing His fingerprints all over my life, I’m still quite inclined to obsess, brood, and ruminate about what’s missing–rarely seeing the present blessing and perpetually looking for the bigger one just around the corner. Some folks obsess about politics, and some about religious dogma–and some about prosaic things like having a better bod, a faster car, a prettier dress or their next tattoo. In every case it’s human neediness (flesh, in holy talk) overpowering any focus on the Lord. And all satan has to do is push our neediness button, redirect our gaze, and our thoughts will cascade down well-worn neural pathways in our brains like some gushing theme-park flume ride.
The antidote to mindless obsessing is mindfulness–an exercise of the will. However, we who took Psych 101 in the 1960s (and likely since) were taught that we had no will–that there was no such thing as freedom to choose–just stimulus and response. Some extreme behavioral psychologists even disputed the idea of consciousness. All we were was a complex of behaviors, completely predictable once you knew our input history or conditioning. And so myself and many others did not think in terms of “will”–that was one of those artifacts of 19th century Romanticism not applicable today.
In the past few years I’ve come to believe that will or mindfulness is the solution to most of satan’s tricks. I’ve learned this from sources as diverse as George MacDonald, the Victorian novelist and clergyman, Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, and Graham Cooke, contemporary teacher on nurturing our prophetic gifts. As Graham says, our will is totally cold-blooded. By cold-blooded he means emotionless–Spock-like. Through exercising our will we can choose to praise the Lord in every circumstance. We can will to do what we know is right when every fiber of our neediness says to do what we know is wrong.
As MacDonald indicated, our will allows us, the children of God, to choose to become true sons of God. Son-ship is not something given, but thru grace something we choose to embrace: “As many as received him, to them He gave power to become the sons of God.” John 1:12. What we are given is the power to choose. As Frankl put it: “Everything can be taken from a man, but one thing: the last of human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” He gave as example those in Auschwitz who chose to give their last piece of bread to someone else. I devote chapter 8 of my book The Unwelcome Blessing to the power of choice.
For me then, the Eleventh Trick is satan pushing our neediness button and directing our focus toward a habitual ruminating about what is wrong with us and our lives to the point of being blinded about present blessings. The antidote is a mindful exercise of our will to a focus on blessings, praise and giving thanks (1st Thes. 5:16-18 “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in every thing give thanks, for this is the will of Christ Jesus concerning you.” Your Eleventh Trick may be different but the antidote is the same.